Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Senate Passes Omnibus Iran Sanctions Bill

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Senate Passes Omnibus Iran Sanctions Bill

Article excerpt

In a surprise move, on Jan. 28 Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) brought to the Senate floor for action S. 2799, the "Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment" bill introduced in November by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) (see March 2010 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, p. 27). Reid's move was unexpected because only two days earlier he had said he would bring up the bill "in the next few weeks." The bill was passed unanimously by voice vote, after no debate and only about five minutes of discussion by Reid, Dodd, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), all strongly supporting the bill (and all recipients of generous contributions from pro-Israel PACS).

This irresponsible bill, if it becomes law in its present form, not only will be punitive-punishing the Iranian people, with negligible effect on the Iranian regime-but counterproductive as well, in that it will probably hurt rather than help pro-democracy forces in Iran. A "catch-all" bill, it encompasses measures included in previously introduced sanctions bills, with some new ones added.

The bill has not been amended since it was introduced, in spite of several reports that the Department of State was working with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) to address some of President Barack Obama's administration's concerns. (As the March issue of this magazine reported, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg wrote to Kerry in December expressing "concern about the timing and content of this legislation," and saying that it "might weaken rather than strengthen international unity," and "could cause unintended foreign policy consequences.") Dodd referred to the administration's concern in his floor remarks, saying that "I believe we can come to some agreement with the [House], and with the administration, on the remaining issues on this bill." According to "The Cable" Web site, the reason the bill was raised unamended was that McCain was determined to propose an amendment that would require the administration to sanction Iranian officials who have committed human rights abuses. According to "The Cable," Reid didn't want to be forced to allow a protracted debate and other amendments, perhaps by Kerry and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). So Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) convinced McCain to withdraw his amendment if Reid and McConnell agreed that the substance of McCain's amendment would be incorporated into the eventual conference report reconciling the Senate and House versions.

The bill does not "authorize" sanctions; it directs them.

In their remarks, both Reid and Dodd referred to a future conference report, but the House has several options. S. 2799 has been sent to the House for action, which could insert the text of the House-passed H.R. 2194, the "Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions" bill (Dodd's bill has often been referred to as a refined petroleum sanctions bill). However, while H.R. 2194 deals almost exclusively with refined petroleum, S. 2799 goes much further. Alternatively, the House could take up S. 2799 separately, amend it, and send it back to the Senate. Another, unlikely, alternative would be for the House to simply agree to S. 2799 as passed by the Senate, in which case there would be no conference report.

Several accounts, mostly from supporters of the Senate bill, say that it would strengthen Obama's efforts to gain support from other countries for multilateral sanctions, because it authorizes unilateral sanctions if multilateral efforts fail. However, the bill does not "authorize" sanctions; it directs them ("the president shall impose..."). No presidential waiver authority is included in Section 102, which provides for the expansion of sanctions under the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 to cover a wide range of activities, persons and entities involved in exporting refined petroleum products to Iran, or investing in, building or assisting in the development of Iran's petroleum resources or domestic refining capacity. …

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